• Sheikh, Rattle & Roll

ABRSM: what will I do differently next year?

Looking back on the previous academic year provides a lot of opportunity for reflection on teaching practise. The arrival of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) exam results provided just this moment to reflect on my brass teaching. Both myself and my students were pleased with the overall exam results but here are some thoughts concerning my teaching practise.

The individual pieces were marked (as I expected) above the basic 'pass', with many performances gaining strong marks. Obviously, this was down to the hard work of the students. However, from my point of view, accompanying my students on the piano from an early stage in the learning process helped the performers to become confident performing with the accompaniment and so increased level of their performance. Many pupils of other non-piano-playing-teachers which I accompanied in the exams found the accompaniment to be a distraction to their playing at the late stage in which the piece was put together. Avoiding this pitfall is obviously helpful. Also on a deeper level, the piano accompaniment often informs musical decisions to be made about the solo line and so working with the accompaniment from the get-go is incredibly useful.

One comment that was consistently made regarding the pieces was the presence (or lack thereof!) of dyanmics in the pieces. When nerves settle in in an exam situation, dynamics are often the first element to leave your mind! In order to combat this for next year I'll take the simple step of embedding the dynamics into the pieces from the very beginning so that each passage is intrinsically linked to the given dynamic.

One piece deserves a little individual attention - a trombonist (who had been playing for less than a year) gained full marks in one of his grade 3 pieces. Again, his hard work paid off and he deserved this. And again, working with the piano helped the both learning process and his confidence. However, in addition to this to this, both him and I worked hard on characterising the the piece and telling a story through the music. This was picked up in the examiner's comments when he wrote that this was a 'particularly well characterised' piece. I would like to try and get to this deep level of involvement with more students and more pieces next year as it encouraged this pupil to interact more with the music which meant he appreciated and enjoyed the piece more which in turn made for a very successful performance.

My 'drip-feeding' of aural skills throughout the year meant that all learners passed this often neglected part of the exam very well. In this coming academic year I would like to employ this 'drip-feeding' approach in two areas:

  1. I gave out a sheet of scales near the beginning of the year and the students learnt from this in lessons and at home. Before the exam the students were performing the scales relatively well. However, when it came to the exam the scales were by far the lowest marked section. To address this problem I'd like to try and focus on one scale at a time and right from the beginning of the year and possibly without the scale written out on manuscript.

  2. For my younger pupils, sight-reading was an under-performed area in the exam. In order to address this I have ordered the book Improve Your Sight-Reading to give out to each pupil. There are small exercises, prepared pieces and graded sight-reading exercise throughout the book. I'll post on this book later on once I've worked with it for a while.

Hopefully these reflections with enable the success of these past exams to be increased in this coming year.

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